WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Romantic)
PERFORMER: Los Angeles PO/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CATALOGUE NO: SK 63301
Daniel Barenboim’s new account of Bruckner’s Second is at once scrupulous in observing dynamic markings and imaginative in discovering the sense behind them. My reservations focus on his use of the Nowak edition (the cuts and occasional cadential padding of which conspire to trivialise a potentially grand work), a messy patch in the Adagio (ensemble and texture seem rudderless at the switch to compound metre), and especially the conception of the finale. Here Barenboim’s effort to display the organic connection between the initial figuration and the first movement’s principal theme results in a sleepy pacing of the movement as a whole – except for the clunky, unyielding treatment of the ‘Sempre rubato’ second subject. If one prefers the Nowak edition, Jochum provides a more gracious alternative.
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Fourth does not begin promisingly, with string tremolos too insubstantial for the good of the initial horn call, which emerges tentative and unatmospheric – this magical moment deserves better. From there on, however, Salonen’s is an inwardly focused reading, serious but leavened with light, clear articulation and loving phrasing (note the way the theme of the Andante is shaped). Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic may provide a satisfying (and ultimately preferable) combination of tonal saturation and forward momentum, but Salonen, while not stinting on force where needed, trades profitably in distilled delicacy and cool calmness. The cautious restraint of the trio (in the scherzo) may be questioned, but I have rarely been more awed by the magnificence of the finale’s coda, where Salonen’s patience in keeping the crescendo from peaking too soon enhances the vastness of Bruckner’s vision. David Breckbill